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Big 7 Boys Basketball: Playoff Preview

Coyotes, Lobos, Eagles and Diamondbacks advance

The doldrums of the 23-24 Big 7 Basketball season are finally over. With all regular season games ending Tuesday night, all that’s left is the UIL state playoffs. With four Big 7 teams locked into their playoff spots, the best is yet to come. The La Joya Coyotes, La Joya Palmview Lobos, Mission Eagles, and Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks are all in.  Whereas earlier parts of the season were about finding footing and creating identities, the mission is simple now: Win or go home.

Here is a quick look at these four Big 7 boys’ basketball playoff teams, complete with names of players to watch and their Bi-district playoff opponents:

Note: All information on the bi-district round playoff matchups was not available at the time of printing.

La Joya Coyotes (24-14, 9-1)

31-6A Co-District Champions

One year after splitting the District Championship three ways, the La Joya Coyotes are again 31-6A kings. And just like last year, they split the championship with the Edinburg North Cougars. This second consecutive district championship comes on the heels of an impressive, near-undefeated district campaign, with their lone blemish coming against the Cougars. Leo Villarreal’s 12 and 8 on 54% shooting catapulted the Coyotes ahead of their district competitors this year.

Daniel Trevino, the Coyotes maestro and third-leading rebounder, orchestrated this steady offense that has exploded recently. The Coyotes are averaging 69 points per contest in their last four games. In that stretch, the Coyotes defense has held their opponents to an average of 50 points per game. The Coyotes’ tenacity will be another factor their Bi-district opponents must contend with. The Coyotes are averaging almost ten offensive rebounds and eight steals per game. Their ability to create second-chance opportunities will be a nuisance in the Playoffs. The Coyotes will face either the Brownsville Hanna Eagles or Harlingen Cardinals in the Bi-district round.

La Joya Palmview Lobos (24-14, 7-7)

30-5A Fourth Place

The Palmview Lobos survived the vaunted 30-5A district and its three-headed monster of Laredo Nixon, Laredo Martin, and Rio Grande City, the top seeds in the district. While the Lobos failed to notch a victory against those three teams, they won the games they were supposed to win. So, for a second consecutive year, the Lobos are playoff-bound.

Their guard-centric attack featuring Joe Gonzalez, Adrian Ibarra, and Leonardo Rivera has been brutal to contain. They will undoubtedly lean on the trio as their margin for error shrinks in the postseason. The trio averages over 40 points per game, which accounts for 66% of the Lobos’ points per game. With bigs Aurelio Diaz and Juan Dominguez handling the paint, the Lobos have all the ingredients necessary for an extended playoff run. The only thing stopping them might be their recent inability to win close games. The Lobos head into the playoffs, losing their last three games by a total of 15 points. The Lobos will need their guards to carry them through the playoffs as the pace slows, physicality increases, and possessions shrink. Their first test will come against the 29-5A district champions, Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial Eagles, who are currently on a 10-game winning streak.

Mission Eagles (12-23, 4-5)

31-6A Fourth Place

After missing the playoffs and residing in the basement of their district for the better part of the last decade, the Mission Eagles are back in the playoffs. Their first-year head coach, Sam Cortez, leads the Eagles’ renaissance. Very few people outside of the Eagles’ facility expected their fourth-place finish. So the Eagles blocked out the noise and went to work. They struggled mightily in their district and non-district schedules but won crucial games in critical parts of the season. Those wins proved to be the difference.

Senior power forward/center Isaac Rios, one of the Valley’s premier big men, and point guard Leon Villarreal have flourished inside Cortez’s traditional inside-outside system. Rios’ 15 and 8 and Villarreal’s 11/5/2 averages have carried The Eagles all season. Athletic “tweeners” Isael Cerda and Christopher Kirk’s ability to protect the paint and guard the perimeter have done similar jobs on the other end of the court. Productivity from the quartet will be necessary if the Eagles expect to advance in this year’s playoffs. Their bi-district opponent, the 32-6A champions Weslaco High Panthers, will force the Eagles to play their best game of the season if they expect to advance.

Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks (20-14, 11-7)

31-5A Fourth Place

The Pioneer Diamondbacks 23-24 season has been trying. Playing inside one of the Valley’s most competitive districts didn’t help. Injuries and acquiring football players later in the season because of playoffs didn’t help either. This season is the first year since 2017 that the Diamondbacks haven’t finished the season as a top-three seed. Despite all the tumult that knocked them off their pedestal, the Diamondbacks are back in the playoff mix. The Big Three of Julian Valdez (leading scorer), Joshua Gaither (top defender and second-leading scorer, and Edward Chavez (top playmaker) carried the Diamondbacks to the finish line. Although they don’t own a win over a top-three seed, their late-season victories over Sharyland, Valley View, PSJA Memorial, and PSJA Southwest kept them from backsliding.

The Diamondbacks’ playoff picture was clear until Tuesday night. They held a tie-breaker over the fifth-place Nikki Rowe Warriors. They would’ve been locked into the fourth seed if they had beaten the Warriors, but they lost 45-28. With a loss, the Diamondbacks will now be forced to play in an elimination game vs the Warriors on Friday night to determine who gets the fourth seed. Or so it was thought.

Update: The recent firing of longtime Nikki Rowe Basketball Coach Jose Yebra and the circumstances of his firing have turned the scenario above upside down. Although Coach Yebra’s firing circumstances are murky, the District Executive Committee met Wednesday, to decide infractions against the Nikki Rowe basketball program. As a result of the executive committee’s decision, the Warriors will be forced to vacate seven of their wins. As a result, the Diamondbacks will be the fourth seed, and their Bi-district opponent will be the 32-5A District champs Weslaco East Wildcats.

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